Urbana Schools Audit Triggered By Hiring Concerns, Union Grievance

November 20, 2018
 
Urbana Middle School

Urbana Middle School

Urbana School District 116

An audit of Urbana School District 116 hiring practices was triggered by concerns from several people that the district wasn’t following its own hiring practices, and a formal grievance from the district’s teachers union, according to a press release from Urbana’s Board of Education.

The statement was released in direct response to Illinois Public Media’s reporting on the existence of the document and its findings. In their statement, the board did not dispute any of the information reported by Illinois Public Media.

The audit report found that district was not following its own hiring procedures in several instances, and “is entirely subjective, and in some cases documentation reflects that the best candidate was not hired.” The report also noted several times that the hiring process as practiced leaves the district vulnerable to legal challenges they would have a difficult time defending.

The release from the board explains that the grievance was filed after a member of the Urbana Education Association wasn’t selected for a position in the district.

“To evaluate the merits of the UEA’s grievance and to more thoroughly evaluate its employment practices, the Urbana Board of Education directed its Board legal counsel to independently examine the District’s employment procedures,” the statement reads.

When asked in a follow-up email how much the district had spent on the audit, the board responded by saying they had not yet received an invoice from the law firm — Robbins Schwartz — that conducted the review.

According to other documents obtained by Illinois Public Media, the vast majority of the positions reviewed by the audit were held by people of color. In their statement, the board wrote that the “identification of positions to be examined was a product of concerns brought forth to individual board members.”

When asked by Illinois Public Media whether board members were aware of the race of those hired for positions targeted by the audit, the board responded by saying that “race played no role in determining which positions were to be examined.”

“Race was not mentioned in individual concerns or in the grievance filed by the Urbana Education Association,” the board added in their email.

The audit report listed several recommended changes, including discontinuing the practice of providing a preference based on any protected status, which would include race, as well as creating a committee on the board that would oversee administrators in the hiring process, among other suggestions.

In their press release, the board wrote that they had been trying to schedule a meeting to discuss the findings of the audit with district administrators.

When asked in a follow-up email whether the board would implement the recommended changes laid out in the audit report, the board responded by writing that “until the report is finalized, and until the board and administration have an opportunity to discuss the findings, the board will not be making changes to its hiring practices.”

Illinois Public Media also specifically asked the board what the audit report means for the district efforts to recruit and retain staff that more accurately reflect with the racial makeup of the district’s student body.

“The board fully supports the district's goal of aggressively recruiting and retaining staff with the goal of having the background of district staff match the background of the students it serves,” the board wrote.

In their press release, the board assured employees whose positions were reviewed under the audit that “your positions of employment are not in jeopardy based upon any findings that hiring practices were not followed.”

The next public meeting of the Urbana District 116 Board of Education is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jean F. Burkholder Administrative Service Center, 205 N. Race St. in Urbana.

The full text of the Urbana District 116 Board of Education's press release is below:

“The Urbana School District 116 Board of Education would like to respond to Lee Gaines' article published yesterday, Thursday, November 15, 2018 and provide context surrounding the hiring practices examination requested by the Board of Education.  Following District Administration's presentation to the Board of Education at a public board meeting on August 7, 2018 regarding its hiring practices, several individuals expressed their concerns to Board Members regarding whether these procedures were being followed in every instance.  Additionally, the Urbana Education Association filed a formal grievance on behalf of a District employee on August 10, 2018 challenging an employee's non-selection for a position of employment with the District.  To evaluate the merits of the UEA's grievance and to more thoroughly evaluate its employment practices, the Urbana Board of Education directed its Board legal counsel to independently examine the District's employment procedures."

"The scope of the examination was based upon the UEA grievance and positions identified to Board members through individual concerns.  The purpose of the audit was to determine if the District's hiring practices were being followed as explained by administration to the Board of Education.  Despite Lee Gaines assertions that "nearly all" of the positions examined were occupied by minority applicants, the identification of positions to be examined was a product of concerns brought forth to individual board members.  Race played no role in determining which positions were to be examined, and the race of employees in these positions was never disclosed to Board legal counsel.  It is important to note that the audit report did not specifically render an opinion that any District employee responsible for the hiring of staff engaged in any type of misconduct, and, most importantly, did not recommend that any person hired for a position with the School District should be removed from his or her position of employment or was not qualified.  The audit report merely cited instances where the District's hiring practices were not followed and made certain recommendations to better secure the process moving forward.  The School Board and administration have been trying to schedule a mutually agreeable time to jointly meet to discuss these findings."

"Finally, the District 116 School Board Members would like to express to those individuals specifically mentioned in the audit report that the report was not provided to Lee Gaines at the direction or with the permission or knowledge of the Board of Education.  This was a confidential legal document.  To those employees whose positions were examined by this report, your positions of employment are not in jeopardy based upon any findings that hiring practices were not followed."

Follow Lee Gaines on Twitter: @LeeVGaines

Story source: WILL